Review by Lauryn Angel
A Bigger Splash opens with images of Tilda Swinton as glam rock goddess Marianne Lane, greeting her worshippers in a packed stadium, juxtaposed with images of a stripped down (literally) Marianne in repose, in hiding with her lover, Paul (Matthias Schoenaertz). Marianne is healing her voice after surgery on her vocal cords, taking some time to rejuvenate and relax. Their bliss is short-lived, however, as Marianne’s producer and former lover, Harry (Ralph Fiennes) bulldozes his way into their idyll, bringing his newly-discovered daughter, Penelope (Dakota Johnson).
The film unfolds slowly, reveling in the contrast of personalities. Harry is brash, unrepentant and energetic and is often the center of attention. Paul is the jealous lover, putting up with the guests because he wants to keep Marianne happy, but lashing out at Harry because he feels threatened. Penelope is the nymphette on the prowl, and even without her voice, Marianne is the queen at whose pleasure they perform. The tension – mostly sexual – builds until it reaches a breaking point, and at that point, the film takes a sharp turn in a different direction.
Swinton and Fiennes give phenomenal performances that complement each other nicely. Whereas Fiennes’s Harry is garrulous and full of kinetic energy, Swinton’s Marianne is silent and languorous. The decision to make Marianne silent stems from Swinton herself, who responded to director Luca Guadagnino’s invitation to star by stating that she would only accept if she didn’t have to speak. It’s a move that works well here, as is juxtaposes Marianne’s silence against Harry’s loquaciousness in a way that simultaneously shows how the characters once fit together and why their relationship would never last.
Watching A Bigger Splash is almost like engaging in voyeurism – except that these characters are each performing in one way or another, and therefore putting themselves on display. They’re all self-involved and behaving badly, but this is what makes the movie engaging.
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